Right to Work

The latest bureaucratic nightmare to affect universities is Right to Work checks. The covering letter for these regulations asserts the following:

Right to Work checks now need to be done for any visitor (in advance to their visit) to the University, regardless whether we are paying them fees or expenses or they are self-funded.

Taken literally (and how else can you take government-imposed regulations?) the regulations mean that anyone wishing to attend (for example) a public lecture at the university must send in their passport in advance (the original, not a copy!) so that a Right to Work check can be carried out and the appropriate paperwork filled in.

It is absolutely unclear now to what extent these regulations will be enforced. What is already clear is that universities are likely to place different interpretations on the rules.

I suspect that in practice they will be watered down in two ways:

  • I do not believe that anyone is going to send their passport along in advance of their attendance at a lecture or seminar. Presumably, after a while, it will be admitted that it is OK if they bring it along and we take a copy.
  • The sanction which will be imposed on us for not filling out the forms correctly is that fees and expenses will not be paid by the university. They seem to have no sanctions in the case of someone who is not being paid. So I suppose such people will slip under the net.

The people who drafted these regulations appear to have no conception of how much damage their full implementation would to to teaching and learning, the core business of universities. But, as usual, we will all just bend over and take our punishment.

If you happen to be passing by and want to drop in to see me, and possibly talk about mathematics, rest assured that I will not demand your passport. If necessary, we will leave the University premises and sit in a coffee shop (or by the sea if the weather is nice), or walk along the West Sands. Our discussion will perhaps be impaired by the absence of a blackboard, but we will have to put up with that. Moreover, if you need some travel money, and are not too embarrassed to ask for it, I will pay you out of my own pocket. I cannot give an assurance that I will never fill in their stupid form, but as far as I can I will avoid it.

And finally, of course, I am not encouraging anyone to follow my practice. That would presumably count as incitement to commit a crime …

About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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13 Responses to Right to Work

  1. A few questions, when I (as an Indian, though it should be valid for many other citizens) submit my visa application for visiting UK (and go through the terrible ordeal), doesn’t this thing get checked automatically? Do I now need to send my passport again (to the university) after getting a visa to travel?

  2. Does this mean that an invited speaker (who will get some money) from India would have to send his or her passport twice? First to obtain a visa, then to the university for the right to work checks? Even with this more reasonable interpretation of this regulation it seems to be very … interesting.

  3. I think it is very unlikely that anyone will have to send their passports for the right to work check. But you will probably have to bring it along when you come so that the seminar organiser can take a copy.

    It is already becoming clear that some universities are taking a much more relaxed view of the rules than ours. Indeed, someone sent me an interpretation of employment law which means that it would be easy to make a case that the rules don’t apply to visiting speakers at all since they are not technically employed by the university. I think the real winners will as usual be the lawyers.

  4. James says:

    From the document that Ferdinand links to above, I can’t see why you would have to carry out a right-to-work check for a visitor, or a seminar speaker, unless they are to be employed by the university. The document even gives a definition: “‘Employee’ means someone who is employed under a contract of employment, service or apprenticeship”. The document still seems to be current, and is linked to from the relevant gov.uk page. I wonder where St Andrews has found the more radical (and impossible to implement) interpretation.

    In fact, presumably many seminar speakers and other visitors simply do _not_ have the “right to work”? It’s not just that the bureaucracy would be a pain, but the situation is that if a check were performed, the answer would be that no, they don’t have the right to work. Nonetheless, they are allowed to visit (even for months at a time) and receive expenses and so on, right? Depending where they come from, they may require a visa (not necessarily a work visa) to be here – maybe that’s what the university is supposed to be checking? In that case I think it’s different from “right to work” (but maybe equally annoying….)

  5. Igor Dolinka says:


    I am sure this is in fact an internal cock-up (excuse the somewhat harsh wording) of the Uni of St Andrews administration. Both from the Home Office instructions and web sites of other universities it is apparent that this is just a matter of a wrong local interpretation of the imposed rules. Academic visitors who are NOT employed by the uni in any contractual form are NOT subject to Right to Work checks – see for example the instructions by Oxford:
    (and indeed the RtW guide of the Home Office). The RtW checks waiver extends event to external examiners, even though they get paid for their work (and thus are subject to HM Revenue & Customs, as I can testify personally, although my final tax duty was 0 GBP), but this is not a contractual arrangement, and thus does not constitute ‘work’ either by UK or EU laws.

    So, this is something that you guys @ StA need to sort out locally, because I was not able to find any other UK uni instructing to conduct RtW checks for not-under-contract academic visitors.

    • Igor Dolinka says:

      Furthermore, EDIT: I just remembered that on 1 June I’m visiting Bob Gray @ East Anglia, and all what I was asked by the UEA administration was my visa-related status. However, upon explaining that, even though I live in Serbia, I am also a citizen of Hungary (and thus of EU), I got the answer that a copy of the first page of my HUN passport (when I arrive to Norwich!) will be the max they need (meaning that there is a possibility tbd that they don’t need even that – my visit is funded by an LMS grant via UEA’s account, so it’s kinda borderline case).

    • Dima says:

      hmm, not so fast… we are meant to check the visa status of visitors who were issued an official letter of invitation, and this is somehow mentioned together with the right to work checks, even though it’s another story.

      Click to access RTW_scenarios_29-02-15.pdf

      • uhmmartin says:

        Dima – this refers to the case where ” the department/college has issued a letter of invitation required for their application to enter the UK as an Academic, Business or Permitted Paid Engagement visitor. “, i.e. the department/college is the persons official sponsor and in communication with the visa authorities. It would not apply when someone who is in the UK, presumably invited by some other institution, happened to come and visit you.

      • Yemon Choi says:

        This is meant to be a reply to uhmartin, but I can’t nest that far.

        My understanding is that people who are visiting “just to say hi and chat maths” would, if coming from various non-EU countries and thus requiring visas, be entering on an Academic / Business visa: see http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/personnel/permits/acvisitors/

        For such people, even if they are not receiving a fee or a stipend from the university, would a “right to work” check need to be carried out?

      • Dima says:

        Oh I see, this must be a symmetric response to US’ J-1 visas nightmare… 🙂

  6. As I expected, there is a lot of uncertainty about what the legislation means. Here is the rather hard-line view taken by HR at St Andrews — I quote from the email:

    “The following MUST HAVE a right to work check:
    · Casual/Bank staff
    • Seminar Speakers
    • Summer Scholarship Payments
    • External Examiners
    • Fees Payments
    • Honorarium Payments
    • Visiting Academics/Scholars (regardless of whether a formal form is
    · Schools should be aware that anyone visiting the University and
    undertaking any work or business activities such as research must have the
    appropriate right to work in the UK regardless of contractual arrangement and length
    of visit.”

    And, incidentally, this has nothing to do with visas, since it applies to UK citizens as well.

    • Igor Dolinka says:

      Well then, if so, St Andrews uni has dug itself a very, very deep hole – that’s all what I can say.

      Forget about a seminar lecture by Terry Tao, ever; he does not have right to work in the UK. (Notice that the above letter stipulates, albeit in an indirect manner, that a positive outcome of the RtW check is a pre-requisite for someone to visit, or to give a seminar.)

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